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Wherever I Go, I Will Always Be A Loyal American: Schooling Seattle’s Japanese Americans during World War II


reviewed by Russell Young - 2003

coverTitle: Wherever I Go, I Will Always Be A Loyal American: Schooling Seattle’s Japanese Americans during World War II
Author(s): Yoon K. Pak
Publisher: Routledge/Falmer, New York
ISBN: 0415932343, Pages: , Year: 2002
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Yoon Pak’s book Wherever I Go, I Will Always Be a Loyal American is an excellently researched book about the schooling of Seattle’s Japanese American population during World War II.  Central to the research are letters written by students to their homeroom teacher, Ella Evanson.  Through the letters, other archival data, and interviews with surviving Japanese Americans who lived through this time in history, Yoon Pak chronicles how the Seattle schools dealt with the conflicting messages of democracy and patriotism with race-based suspension of civil rights.  She details the struggle of maintaining a school environment of tolerance amid mounting social prejudice following the Japanese bombings of Pearl Harbor.

 

This book is important for at least two reasons.  It fills in a gap of American history.  Many Americans know so little about the role of Americans of Japanese ancestry in American history.  In general, Japanese are seen as a group devoid of individuality.  Americans stumble to name one famous Japanese American.  As Mia Tuan (1998) puts it, the Asian ethnic experience is relegated to being “forever foreigners.”  When one thinks of American history as it pertains to the Japanese Americans, one may come up with the Japanese internment during World War II and the Gentlemen’s Agreement.  More current influences on American culture may include Ichiro, Japanese anime, and marshal arts (i.e. ninjas, karate).  However, what happened to the Japanese between the Yellow Peril scare and Gentleman’s Agreement in the early 1900’s to the immoral herding of Americans based solely on race to internment camps?  Yoon Pak helps to fill this gap by using the schooling of Seattle’s Japanese Americans as context.

 

Pak briefly describes the first Japanese immigration to Hawaii in 1868.  Shortly after, sweeping social and economic changes in Japan, such as universal public schooling, national taxes, and industrialization, severely affected the large, rural peasant class.  As a result, large-scale immigration to the United States began in the 1890s and continued until 1907-08.  Anti-Japanese sentiments came in a proposal to segregate Japanese school children in San Francisco.  To avoid conflicts with Japan, President Roosevelt struck up the Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907 that restricted Japanese immigration as well as repealed the San Francisco order.  Although the Agreement restricted laborers, Japanese men could still sponsor wives and “picture brides” to America.  The stories of the children and educators in Pak’s study revolve around the “Nisei,” or those born from the immigrant generation from that time.

 

Pak details the educational experiences of Japanese American students preceding World War II.  Pak discusses the Americanization process the Seattle schools took to promote loyalty and patriotism among the Japanese Americans.  The schools engaged in flag rituals, segregation in English language education, citizenship curriculum, and grades for citizenship.  Fortunately, the early Superintendent Frank Cooper fought against a segregated school for students with limited English proficiency.  The actions of people like Frank Cooper in Seattle show the important role schools play in the Americanization process.  The Americanization process for many is a privileged, hegemonic one while for others it embraces cultural and linguistic diversity.  People like Frank Cooper and Ella Evanson fought for the latter version.  It is refreshing to hear Pak tell their stories.

 

Japanese Americans worked hard to become loyal Americans.  It was the petitioning and lobbying efforts of Japanese Americans in Seattle and Los Angeles that resulted in the Japanese Amendment of the Japanese Nationality Act in 1916 eliminating dual citizenship.  Japanese language schools were set up to “educate future permanent residents of the United States and …provide supplementary instruction in Japanese and education about Japan” (p. 36).

 

A second important reason to read this book is its timeliness.  There are striking parallels between the aftermath of Pearl Harbor and the subsequent treatment of Japanese Americans and the aftermath of September 11 and the attitudes toward Middle Easterners and Muslims.   There were overall suspicions of the loyalty of Japanese Americans to the point of hysteria.  Similarly, Muslims and Middle Easterners are under increased scrutiny.  Others mistaken for Americans of Japanese decent had to display their “race” in order to avoid prejudice.  Just as there were Chinese Americans mistaken for Japanese then, Indians, Sikhs, and others have been discriminated against recently because they were assumed to be Middle Eastern or Muslim.  There were also those who defied the social tendencies to discriminate and were pro-active heroes in defending the civil rights and dignity of the Japanese Americans.  Perhaps we can learn something from our own past in dealing with September 11.

 

Ella Evanson was the seventh and eight grade English and social studies teacher of Washington School.  Yoon Pak analyzes the students’ compositions to her following the forced relocation of Japanese Americans.  So many of the letters mention the love and loyalty the students felt toward the United States despite the emotional upheaval they must have had.  The letters showed a general acceptance of the evacuation as justified.  One letter to Ella Evanson by Tokunari states, “I was born in Seattle and I wish it not to perish with bombs and bullets.  And If Freedom and Liberty should fall it should grow again.  Don’t forget. Buy United States Savings Stamps and bonds!” (p. 13).  The discrimination toward the Japanese affected their friends they left behind also.  At a farewell party, one boy mentioned, “we are all sorry to see the Japanese go.  I hope the war will soon end in our favor so that the Japanese will be able to come back to Seattle” (p. 23).

 

In the midst of social patriotic fervor and growing racial prejudice, Dr. Pak shows the critical role school officials played in promoting tolerance and inter-group harmony.  School officials responded by emphasizing the unity of all students in friendship and citizenship.  Following the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, one Seattle principal reminded her heterogeneous student body “you were American citizens last Friday; you are American citizens today.  You were friends last Friday; you are friends today.” (p. 95).  When Chinese American students started wearing “I am Chinese” buttons to avoid the mounting prejudices against Japanese Americans, a teacher addressed the school and urged the students not to wear them to signify unity. 

 

This book should be of interest to a variety of readers.  The book can be a good supplement for courses in social studies education, ethnic studies, Asian American studies, and history of education.  It is easy to read and would make a good supplemental text in a variety of college courses.

 

REFERENCE

 

Tuan, Mia. (1998). Forever foreigners or honorary whites? The Asian ethnic experience today.  New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

           

 



Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 105 Number 4, 2003, p. 604-607
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11034, Date Accessed: 1/20/2022 9:26:37 AM

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About the Author
  • Russell Young
    San Diego State University
    E-mail Author
    RUSSELL L. YOUNG is a professor at San Diego State University. He teaches courses in multicultural education, educational research, and language policy. His research interests include racial and ethnic identity development, multicultural teacher education, language policy, and Asian American education. Recent publications can be found in Multicultural Perspectives, Bilingual Research Journal, and Issues in Teacher Education. His children’s book, Dragonsong, received the National Association of Multicultural Education 2000 Children’s Book Award.
 
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